Your sales team is dynamic and sharp. They’ve done their homework, they’ve memorized the data and they know which clients to target. So, why did they fail to close the deal?

Most often, the problem lies in failing to present an inspiring and engaging story. Either your competitor had a better one, or the salesperson’s story was not compelling enough to successfully challenge the status quo. Salespeople must be able to craft compelling, differentiated and customer-centric business value stories that connect with their listeners and stick with them.

What makes business value stories different? They build and grow with explicit input from the customer themselves. The listener shares the narrative spotlight and focuses on what matters most to them.

It’s become popular in communication and sales circles to say that humans are hardwired for stories. Examples regularly include images of cavemen around the fire or evoke the storytelling constructs of Aristotle. What does “hardwired” actually mean? Let’s take a look at the science behind why storytelling is such an effective sales tool.

Build Trust Through Neural Coupling and Oxytocin.

Thanks to the advancement of neuroimaging systems and technologies, modern neurologists are able to prove that storytelling creates measurable changes within the brains of the listeners. When a salesperson engages a customer in a story, they not only activate areas of their brain that affect emotion and empathy, but they also sync their own brain activity with the customer’s.

Using functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI), scientists have investigated the alignment or correlation of neural activity between speaker and listener during natural verbal communication. They discovered that this neural coupling is most pronounced when the speaker and listener share the same real-life story; in other words, participants experience similar brain activity.

Likewise, storytelling that engages the buyer activates the limbic system, the structures of the brain responsible for emotions, memory and learning. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak studied the release of oxytocin in the listener’s brain and how it increases a person’s empathy and trust. He writes, “The brain network that oxytocin activates is evolutionarily old. This means that the trust and sociality that oxytocin enables are deeply embedded in our nature.”

Narratives Are Inherently Persuasive.

Humans naturally process incoming information as stories in what Michael Dahlstrom of Iowa State University calls narrative pathways. According to his research, we are most influenced by external narrative messages, which are stories received from outside sources, especially ones that we perceive as credible. These types of stories are inherently persuasive and can dramatically influence the listener’s perception and decision-making.

It’s Not Your Story.

Understanding the science behind storytelling is only part of successfully closing a deal. While every good salesperson knows that facts and figures are essential components of a sale, the fundamentals of research and discovery should always include knowing what the customer actually cares about. This understanding, in turn, provides the heart of a successful story.

The Buyer Will Help You Shape a Winning Story.

Business value stories use a reliable and reusable framework. The narrator presents a challenge, tension builds within the mind of the listener (activating the brain), and then both speaker and listener work together toward a resolution (releasing oxytocin).

What makes a business value story different from traditional storytelling is the inclusion of the customer as a secondary, authoritative narrator. As the story asks questions and seeks clarification, the salesperson raises the customer’s awareness and interest. The story begins to evolve with the buyer’s input and adoption. When the rep finally reaches the point of advocacy and recommendations, the customer has already developed a sense of ownership to the story. It may have started as the seller’s narrative, but now it’s the buyer’s, too.

Business Value Stories Go Where You Can’t.

In his book “Actual Minds, Possible Worlds,” psychologist Jerome Bruner says that the mind has a “narrative mode” and that people are 22 times more likely to remember a story than facts and figures. The brain’s natural narrative pathways simply don’t retain data dumps and endless bullet points.

With a feeling of connection to the narrative that they helped to create, the customer is much more likely to share it with others. Whether it’s with a colleague, key stakeholders or a primary decision-maker, this new narrative is easier to remember and, importantly, easier to retell.

Anyone Can Learn How to Create an Effective Business Value Story.

A business value story is a repeatable framework of highlighting a problem and working toward a solution with differentiated outcomes. Imagine this skill in the hands of your entire sales team. They’ll have more conversations and close more deals as they create connection, trust and, ultimately, loyal customer allies.